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First impressions are an important thing in life, and this is doubly true for bands just releasing their first album. It can either make or break a career. Producing a range of responses from “Oh that’s just fucking cool!” to “Uh, what the hell is this shit?” We are at a point in time where bands from all over the world can be streamed at any given time on internet radio and web-pages. A band must stand out to survive in this cutthroat world of the World Wide Web; Survivors Zero would blend in with the crowd. They are not inspiring enough to make me get up and search for their debut album CMXCIX. Now, that being said, there are some good points to be made about the band’s technicality and musicianship, but it doesn’t help the band stand out from the ever-growing crowd and make you say “Wow.” Which is somewhat of disappointment considering the band’s lineage. With members hailing from bands such as Impaled Nazarene, Finntroll, Deathchain and The Scourger, you would expect this Finnish “super-group” to sound a little more... well, a little more. I do have to admit with this one though, that I was really only familiar with Impaled Nazarene and only ever heard one or two tracks from Finntroll. CMXCIX left me feeling somewhat shortchanged by the end. And when you have a project like this, it can either succeed or fail, and with Survivors Zero, they tend to be faltering towards the fail side of the line. Fortunately for Survivors Zero, they aren’t quite at “fail,” but they don't quite make the cut either, just barley passing the bottom line for what a decent death metal outfit should sound like.
From the opening track, “Embrace the Inferno” to the album's final offering, “Reclaiming my Heritage,” this album is pressed and clean, to the point of being sterile musically. The exact opposite of what many death metal purists would say it should be. While listening to the album, you might become aware of moments of doubt where lyrically, the songs almost sound pro-Christian, but then promptly switch back to the albums overall theme of Hell, Damnation and denying God. With the possibility that this switch was done on purpose, I found it somewhat annoying, but not to the point that I didn't want to listen anymore.
After listening to the album a few more times, three tracks started to stand out from the rest as being, good quality songs showing that these boys potential as a band. The tracks “Armageddon Cult” - the strongest cut on the album - “I Bury them Deeper,” and “Trail of Fears” all stood out from the rest of the album. If you listen to just these three tracks alone, you will get a good idea of what these Finns might be capable of on future albums. A final song of note is the last one, which has also been released as a single. “Reclaim my Heritage,” seemingly an anthem for a new generation, proclaiming nothing new, but still presenting it in an almost catchy, neatly packaged song ready to feed to the awaiting hordes of potential fans. Both lyrically and musically, the song could be stronger and more powerful, the instruments blending together a little less and the vocals being a little bit cleaner in their presentation. I honestly think that “Armageddon Cult” would have been a better first single off this disk, with “Reclaiming My Heritage” being a second or third release from this album. In any event, the song is likeable and almost catchy. Then there is “I am the Gun,” possibly the one song I disliked the most on the album and had an almost Slipknotesque feel. This got to the point that every time the song would reach the chorus, I started expecting the chorus for Slipknot's “Heretic Anthem” from the album Iowa - confusing me to what CD I was actually listening to. I found it incredibly annoying and had to resist the urge to proceed to the next track. Beyond that, most of the tracks blend together, making it feel like one giant song on the disk with a few stand out bits that make it listenable, but not sticky in my mind.
According to the band's website, it took the band a year to work out their style and thematic elements, this time being “long and tedious” which seems to show in the recorded album. While the band's bio goes on to say that the band synched musically once vocalist, Tommi Virranta became included, it’s not as much as I think they feel they did. Survivors Zero feels like a forced smile on the face of a seven-year-old. While the music is well constructed and pieced together - each member of the band's individual talent shining through on the album - it still doesn't pack quite the punch that I think many were hoping for. There is hope though, before I totally discount it, and this stems from the fact that they all seem at least moderately talented (they range, and I think you can tell), and with more work and time will sound more together.
The album’s artwork and packaging are very crisp and well produced (almost overly so) and doesn’t quite fit with the “ugly and smelly” image they seem to want to project to the world. The lyric booklet is both unique and fits well with the thematic elements of the album. I like it - but the lyrics themselves are very hard to read, being both in a very tiny font and dark text over a dark background leaving no contrast for the reader trying to see what they are singing about. They are also then seemingly concealed by the song titles (which are gigantic), drawing your attention from the actual focus of the page. It almost seems like they are trying to hide the lyrics between the extra-large track titles and the camouflaging background. Very annoying if you are one of those who like to try and read the lyrics of the song you are listening to.
Once I was able to actually make out the lyrics, they were your run of the mill, pro-Satan, we hate Christ lyrics. The songs are straightforward and have no clever use of the dark imagery that is so popular in Metal today. They don’t hide it behind veils, putting it in your face and telling you how it is, which would be one-hundred percent okay if it weren't for the fact there really is nothing in them to separate them for other bands in the death metal scene.
While I have to admit that time might make Survivors Zero a better band, and that the album was somewhat growing on me with each listen. I still couldn't get past the fact that with this band's experience in the industry; they should sound better than they do. While I won't discourage someone from buying this album, I would suggest that you listen with the intent you might be a little disappointed after listening the first time. If I were to make any real suggestions of what you should do with this album, it would be this: this would be one of those albums you would get for your thirteen year old kid brother who’s just getting into death metal. But it also might grow on you with time. I personally I’m going to wait it out for a second album before I place them on the “it looked at the time” pile. In other words, even though I don't really like this album, I do see the beginnings for a good, quality band with staying power if they develop themselves in the right way.
by Kesh Butler, contributor from Metal Psalter Webzine